Choosing a quarterback was just one of the challenges facing a Cal Poly football offense in transition.
Now that the Mustangs have given junior Vince Moraga the chance to start the Aug. 31 season-opener against visiting San Diego, the question shifts to what that offense will look like without departed stars Andre Broadous and Deonte Williams and under new offensive play-caller Saga Tuitele.
The answer: Similar to last season, when Cal Poly was one of the most efficient offenses in the FCS. That’s the hope anyway.
“It’s going to be the same as we were last year,” said Tuitele, who had been a co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Mustangs since 2009. “We’re going to try to throw the ball a little bit more. I’d like to throw the ball 20 to 22 times a game. We’re also going to take what the defense gives us sometimes.”
The next two weeks, head coach Tim Walsh, Tuitele, quarterbacks coach Juston Wood and others have the chance to cater the offense to Moraga’s strengths, something they could not do while he was competing equally with sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves, sophomore Chris Brown and redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin throughout the majority of the offseason.
Moraga remains largely untested. Backing up Broadous last season, he completed one of two passes for 16 yards and ran 10 times for 76 yards.
But because of his longevity in the program, Moraga brings a level of expertise the others are still working toward.
“Vince, he knows the offense,” Tuitele said. “We probably can put a little bit more on the quarterback’s table on the first game. We have to marry up and make sure the offensive line can handle it, and the receivers and whoever else is in the backfield, but we can put a lot more of our offense for the first game because we have a kid that’s a little more experienced, understands it more and understands the checks and can see things through my eyes and coach Wood’s eyes.”
Walsh made it clear that Moraga’s edge remains slim over the other three and Moraga was hardly content after his second practice as the starter Tuesday morning.
“As far as a personal practice, I was far from perfect,” Moraga said. “Being the guy now, I want to practice perfect. No missed reps, no missed reads, no missed throws, no balls on the ground. We have two weeks, and I have a lot to get better with.”
Moraga said one offensive philosophy being stressed is to dictate to the defense rather than vice versa. That’s somewhat of a departure from Walsh’s early days with the program, and it’s a concept that has evolved over the years.
Former play-caller Bryan Cook left for Georgia Tech in the offseason after four seasons as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Walsh.
With Cook contributing, the offense developed from one where the quarterback played exclusively under center and the team huddled after every play to one where a majority of the Mustangs’ snaps came out of the shotgun and no-huddle plays were called with hand signals from the sideline.
The advantages were three-fold. They suited the talents of Broadous, a prolific high school quarterback who came from a shotgun system, allowed Cal Poly to quicken the pace if it got behind by multiple scores and gave the offense a better chance to decide who gets the ball.
The results were excellent in last year’s 9-3 season, when the Mustangs made their first FCS playoff appearance since 2008 and first with Walsh as their head coach.
Cal Poly ranked third in the country with 324.2 rushing yards per game and seventh with 36.7 points per game.
Eighty-three percent of the Mustangs’ plays from scrimmage went down as rushing attempts, and many of the shotgun plays were just option attacks from a different perspective.
That said, what Cal Poly lacked in pass production — the Mustangs ranked 115th out of 121 FCS teams in passing yards — the offense made up for in an efficient passing game.
Cal Poly led the nation with a 175.7 passer rating. Including a handful of halfback and reverse passes, Mustangs passers tossed 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions and completed 57.5 percent of passes.
Whether Cal Poly actually throws 22 times per game as Tuitele mentioned or mirrors the 12.8 attempts per game averaged in 2012, “I hope productivity-wise it looks the exact same,” Walsh said, “because if we can average 36-and-a-half points and 400-something yards a game, I’m going to be a pretty happy head coach, and we’re going to win a lot of games. That would be the goal.”
Cal Poly is still figuring out exactly how to replicate last season’s offensive success without Williams, a 1,500-yard rusher now in the Oakland Raiders training camp, and Broadous, who ran for the second-most career touchdowns in program history (30) and is now playing professional indoor football in Washington.
The Mustangs do return leading receiver Willie Tucker, Cole Stanford and Akaninyene Umoh in addition to three starting offensive linemen, but the remaining skill positions figure to be crucial.
Junior slotback Kristaan Ivory replaces Williams in the starting lineup. He ran for 728 yards and totaled 10 touchdowns as the first back off the bench last season.
Now, it’s up to Moraga to spread the ball and move up the field.
“The good thing about it is,” Tuitele said, “we have a starting quarterback, and we can move forward and get ready for San Diego.”